Looking Back at a 50-year Look-Ahead

I bought a used copy of the above book a couple decades ago, thinking it could be fun to put it aside unopened until the titular year. I’ve managed to resist the urge to peek. And now the time has come.

Toward the Year 2018 was published in 1968 for the Foreign Policy Association. That association is described this way at http://www.fpa.org/:

“The Foreign Policy Association was founded in 1918 as the League of Free Nations Association. It was formed by 141 distinguished Americans to support President Woodrow Wilson’s efforts to achieve a just peace. The Association was reconstituted in 1923 as the Foreign Policy Association with a commitment to the careful study of all sides of international questions affecting the U.S. John Foster Dulles and Eleanor Roosevelt were among the incorporators.”

Here are some notes from reading the book, followed by thoughts on contemporary legal reality and its potential future.

Twelve Unangry Men

I recognized just three of the ‘eminent leaders’ (no women) who contributed to this collection –Herman Kahn, Ithiel de Sola Pool, and Anthony Oettinger (who I’ve had the pleasure of meeting.) But all twelve provided thoughtful accounts of where things seemed to be going, with appropriate humility and sobriety.

Three-dimensional television and anti-gravity belts may not yet quite be with us, but our ‘pocket computers,’ ‘voice typewriters,’ and global communication networks were accurately foreseen. Battlefields may not yet boast many disintegrator ray weapons, but semi-autonomous ones were predicted. Most authors anticipated growing economic inequality even as overall prosperity increased.

Here are some passages I found interesting:

“There’s a chance I may see the year 2018 myself.”(D.G. Brennan, page 7. Died 4/18/80.)

“[T]here is very little question that field-transportable [laser] units can be developed that will rapidly burn holes in tanks, to say nothing of individual soldiers.” (14)

“On balance, it will not be at all surprising if laser weapons largely or wholly supplant pistols and rifles.” (15)

“It is possible that warfare … might become almost bloodless, with the fighting taken place … between automated or remote-controlled mechanisms.” (19)

“[A] communication system would provide every traveler with immediate and continuous contact with the rest of the world while he is in transit.” (44)

“The concept of secrecy among nations and privacy among groups and individuals will dissolve as communication technology races ahead of society.” (46)

“Already influential, TV is likely to become even more so in the future. Its performance will improve with better color and a sharper picture. Perhaps we will be able to record programs cheaply and replay them later.” (53)

“Man will control rain, fog, storms, and even possibly the climate.” (61)

“[A] mechanism is needed to determine the global consequences of contemporary human activities and to see that those consequences do not cross the threshold of tolerability from the viewpoint of mankind as a whole.” (71)

“Educational technology, in the form of computerized teaching devices, audiovisual displays, and feedback devices, will become as big an industry as publishing is today.” (92)

“‘[A]n important advance in behavioral technology will be our ability, by 2018, to choose a rate of economic growth (up to about 6 percent per annum) and to hold steadily to that rate without unscheduled fluctuations.” (93)

“So, too, by the year 2018 nationalism should be a waning force in the world.” (95)

“Intelligence will be used more deftly as a basis for propaganda and persuasion, gaining credibility because it will be based on fact, or seeming fact.” (110)

“The U.S. and U.S.S.R. will still be the only superpowers.” (152)

“By the year 2020 we expect the work year to drop to an average of 1,370 hours.” (161)

“If we are as intellectually unprepared for events at the beginning of the 21st century, and as much lacking in understanding of the issues as we were in 1929, 1941, and 1947, we are likely to be in for some unpleasant surprises.” (164)

“Before the turn of the century it may be possible for anyone with about $5,000 to have his own submarine, which will go down to depths of several miles.” (175)

Melting in the Dark

It’s mid morning in mid December, 2017. I’m on the Los Angeles Metro, heading to the central courthouse as part of a project to create online tools for unrepresented litigants who find themselves involved in ‘unlawful detainer’ (eviction) proceedings. The train passes through the MacArthur Park station, and Richard Harris’s song starts to play in my head. Someone left a cake out in the rain.

My fellow passengers are mostly scruffy and beaten down. A woman runs down the aisle, screaming ‘get away!’ at an invisible adversary. A man repeatedly punches a window. Some of us exit at the Civic Center stop, where the Stanley Mosk can be found. It’s the busiest civil courthouse in the country.

I circumambulate the building to get a sense of the place, then enter. Waves of humanity lap against the hallway walls. Some disoriented, some earnest, but many showing perplexing good humor. Pairs of lawyers negotiate in the cacophony. One conducts business on a cell phone from his bench office. Court officers herd jurors past families awaiting unknown developments. A staff person helps a young woman fill out a financial statement by hand, giving directions that won’t be remembered, and exploring nuances that won’t be recorded. People line up in front of ‘windows’ to file paper forms. I feel like I’m in a 1950s movie. Yet just outside are food trucks, a manicured public park, and sleek modern buildings.

I’m later given tours of several self-help centers in the building, where hope and modernity peek through. But the day is a sobering reminder of how little of the future has yet arrived in governmental and judicial settings.

With apologies to Blaise Pascal — Le court a ses raisons, que la raison ne connaît point.

Toward the Year 2068

You have to admire anyone who attempts to describe the world a half century in the future. The Foreign Policy Association team did a decent job in its day. What might we venture now about a comparably distant future?

One is naturally curious how history will treat our current easy-to-loathe president. There are many possibilities. (1) He ushered in a genuine and sustained new era of American prosperity and international respect. (2) He and his minions pursued policies under which millions unnecessarily suffered and died. (3) His criminal depravity finally recognized, he was flushed out of American politics before the end of his first term. (4) He muddled through a term, but faced a hostile Congress and an electorate uninterested in even nominating him as candidate for another one. (5) Something else.

Odds are it will be something else.

What about in law?

I’ve already written about the 22nd century legal technium so a mere fifty years shouldn’t be that hard. Yet I’ve pretty much given up prognosticating since writing a pair of 1994 articles in the New York Law Journal on Getting Past the Future (available here.) The legal world of today is not as different as I expected it would be back then.

I was in high school in 1968. Maybe I will still be somewhere in 2068. Supercentenarians could be commonplace, after all. In any event, I will be forgiven for reckless predictions given fifty years earlier. So here’s one: Lawyers and judges will mostly be women, courts will mostly be virtual, and more justice will be done.

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